Describing the air routes as “largesse”, the Supreme Court Tuesday lashed out at the central government over its “arbitrary” route disbursal policy for airlines and favoured setting up a committee to probe and “bring out the skeletons”.
A bench led by Chief Justice T S Thakur said the court is inclined to constitute a committee that would go into the decisions on allocation of air routes and “call the bluff” that the government is catering only to private air carriers.
“We will appoint somebody who will go into all this and call the bluff. You have to be taken to task. This will bring out so many skeletons. It will lead to an exposure,” observed the bench, pointing out that it is already examining a PIL filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. Swamy has questioned Jet-Etihad deal and the seat-sharing agreement between India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In this case, the bench was examining a PIL relating to lack of air connectivity of Shimla since September 2012 after Kingfisher ceased its operation. Air India had been asked to submit a status report as to its plans for providing air connectivity between Shimla, Chandigarh and Delhi.
On the other hand, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was asked by the apex court to rework the 22-year-old Route Dispersal Guidelines (RDG) and ask private airlines to fly smaller aircraft to towns like Shimla with shorter airstrips. The court had further asked Additional Solicitor General P S Patwalia to file a reply setting out the government policy on allotment and grant of licences to commercial and scheduled airlines for various sectors, within and outside the country.
After going through Patwalia’s response and an inability expressed by the DGCA to resume operations at Shimla, the bench questioned whether the government was bothered only about places with political capital.
“You don’t bother about smaller places. North-eastern states are not politically very important for you, so they remain unconnected. Is it not a part of your policy to also give connectivity to smaller places? It seems you cater only to the operators,” observed the bench.
As Patwalia sought to mollify the bench saying the connectivity issue was because of requirement of small aircraft, the court retorted: “It is a general impression that your route disbursement policy landed national carrier Air India in debt. Your policy is not sacrosanct. Remember these routes are like largesse and grant of this largesse is apparently without any guidelines. We will have somebody examine it.”
Justice Thakur had started dictating his order on setting up a committee but Patwalia requested him to grant the government a week to reconsider the matter. Clarifying that it was their last opportunity, the bench adjourned the matter for a week.